Beautiful and Classic Savannah and “Why I Don’t Use Watermarks”

Why I don’t use Watermarks

I get this question a lot, and it often comes up in interviews. I know my opinion is different than many other photographers, and that is okay.

As you know, my work is all Creative Commons Non-Commercial. That means people, as long as they give credit and link back here to can use my images on their blogs, wallpaper, personal use – anything – as long as it is not used commercially. Every day, I upload a HUGE max-resolution image to the Internet. I do not have any fear at all… Believe me, it’s quite liberating living in a world without internet-stealth-fear.

People that want to license our images regularly contact licensing at – we get many of these every day of the week.

So why don’t I use watermarks? It’s a multi-part philosophy –

1) Watermarks look ugly. Whenever I look at a photo with a watermark, often times, ALL I can think about is that watermark! It’s so distracting. Maybe this is just me.

2) Legitimate companies do not steal images to use commercially. So I don’t have any logical fear there.

3) There are other services, like Tineye (and Google) that can help my team easily find bottom-feeders.

4) We do register our images with the copyright office, so if someone uses an image commercially without a proper license, it is an easy lawsuit.

5) I don’t have to maintain two versions of each image – one with a watermark and one without.

6) NOT using watermarks and using creative commons helps more and more people to use your image freely for fun, which increases traffic and builds something I call “internet-trust.”

7) As image search and image recognition get better and better, there will be no need to watermark things. In 1 year+, we’ll be able to r-click an image and choose “Google-find the original creator” — there is a bit trail to first-on-the-internet.

8) Yes, last, there will be bottom-feeders that steal your stuff. I call this the cost of doing business on the internet. These are the Tic-Tacs that are stolen from the 7-11. It is impossible to maintain 100% of your digital inventory, so wanting “perfection” in your online strategy is an illusion.

Daily Photo – Beautiful and Classic Savannah

When I drove through Savannah, I met up with my good friend Scott Kublin who showed me some of the sights. This gem of a place was one of the first places we visited. I walked up and down the road a few times to find the most interesting place to take a photo. This one was taken with the 14-24 lens — although the other interesting shot was the 200mm shot from much further away. I decided to go with this one because I really liked the position of the sun.


  • Great shot! It’s shots like this that interest me the most. Here is what most of us would consider a boring subject, yet you make it interesting by the composition of the shot. I’m always trying to train myself to be more mindful and look for interesting views of boring subjects. Great job doing that here!

    I agree completely on the no watermark thing. I don’t use watermarks on my photos either and encourage people to use them by licensing them creative commons. I tend to think giving away stuff and building an audience that way provides more benefit all around: I get more fans (we, ideally ^^ assuming they don’t think my stuff is crap) and they get free photos. win/win.

    But, having said that, I think it’s far easier for someone like me with a very small audience to make that decision.

  • I know a lot of people are thankful you don’t use watermarks in your images. Not only are they ugly, they scream egoist! Did you use the “tunnel panorama” technique in this one as well?

  • Respect++ for the watermark policy! 😉

    I see the watermark problem e.g. all around deviantART, and (c) everything, and you-can-do-nothing-with-this-image licenses… Nothing, meaning even see it? Hell, all I want is a cool wallpaper for my desktop.

    Keep up the good work!

  • Wonderful!

  • Gernot

    wow, nice shot and i totally agree: watermarks are distracting elements. even some friends tell me the want to add them in a subtle way so you can hardly see them – so why adding them?

  • Trey, I agree and per our conversation a while back I went Creative Commons as well (Thanks). I see it as only helpful! Also now with the “Content Aware” on CS5 most watermarks possibly can be removed easily with a click. I do believe that as your portfolio grows and you have admired and requested photos…keep these in a special place. But all others can be used to advertise your product/brand. Cheers!! Pete

  • I, for one, am very thankful you don’t use watermarks. They are incredibly distracting and detract from the overall impact/beauty of the work. I have blogged about your photography many times, and always give links to the source/credit. I truly enjoy being able to share my favorite work with others, and for those (like me) who WANT to credit the original artist and pay tribute…lack of watermarks is a wonderful thing.

  • Well I have a small watermark these day’s bottom left that is readable. A lot of people out there would have no idea on metadata and how to look at it.
    They can however see my name, so do a search and hopefully come up with the details they want/need.

    Hell, in my Chrome browser I can’t even find the data for this image easily.

  • Hello Trey, I was wondering if you could explain in further detail about the the copyrighting process through a copyright office. Who do you use? How much does it cost?

    I am sure we can all agree that knowing how to protect your photographs is important as how to make good photographs.

    Thank you!


  • Wow, I can even read the letters are the brick arch!! Founded in 1740, amazing. I would love to walk down that road to Bethesda!! Just beautiful, Trey!!! One of my favorites, but I’m getting a lot of favorites 😉 ! As for the watermark issue, I agree with you completely. I see some graphics at Christian sites I go to and they have watermarks!! Very distracting. I don’t bother to download them. So I agree completely on that issue and you are well protected, so it’s not necessary. Thanks for sharing a wonderful photo!!!!

  • Someone above said watermarks are egotistical…hmm, I disagree big time.

    I don’t even know what to think about if they are good or bad. I know I am using them right now, but that’s just to protect my work.

    Trey, you mention commercial use, etc., but what about those of us that may sell prints to private buyers? If I uploaded the max resolution photo to my site, and a fan of my work could just download it, take it to a printer, frame it themselves and hang it in their house…isn’t that a problem?

    I’m not completely disagreeing with you, but I wish someone could tell me how to protect from that? I’m sure commercial digital rights companies will definitely contact you to license your work.

    I just don’t see how I could hang a photo in a gallery or sell prints online for $150 or more, but also post the highest resolution version with no watermark and then not think someone would rather just right-click, save image and keep their $150.

    Someone help me with that? It’s not ALL about commercial use…

    I also try to use a watermark that is fairly dim and blends into the photo instead of being blatant and obvious.

  • I’m coming around to your way of thinking. For a while, I’d bought into the watermark/fear of theft way of posting online. Sure enough, I found some theft of my watermarked images. They just put a bigger watermark over mine and made it look even uglier. Basically, people were stealing my images to put on their blog loaded with tacky advertising. It irked me that they were trying to make money from my images without any credit or thought for me.

    Now I’m pretty much over it. I’ve done away with the watermarks. I register all of my images with the Copyright Office now (Deyson: do it yourself for $35 at I don’t mind at all if someone wants to use my image for a wallpaper or something personal. It’s those who profit from photographers that still irk me, but the copyright registration will help there when I find them.

    I haven’t gone with Creative Commons yet, but I’m leaning in that direction.

    Mike, the guy who right-clicks for personal use is taking advantage of the creative commons license. I’m not sure you would’ve made a $150 sale off of him, anyway.

  • Great HDR as usual 🙂

    I am a beginner trying to do HDR so I have a few questions after looking through your tutorial. I have Photomatix and Noiseware Community Edition but I can’t afford Photoshop (I have 20 something days left for the CS5 trial) so I have to use Gimp. I have found of course that Gimp does not have the plugin flexibility which PS has, so my questions are these: When it comes to color which tools should I use? And which sharpening techniques?

    I agree with Mike on the watermark issue…. I don’t like the thought of somebody downloading a high res pic of mine and making a print.

  • William, just curious, do you pay $35 for every image you post on your blog or there is some type of bulk license as well? thanks!

  • Thanks everyone — I’ll do my best to answer q’s – but having a busy day

    Dmitrii and Deyson – No, we do it in bulk. Actually, there is a process involved. I will ask my copyright guy to write a little article for everyone on how to do it… very cheap and not too hard.

    Others on Watermarks… yes I understand the counterpoints pretty well – there are some good ones, but nothing enough to sway me the other direction…

    William – Yeah it sucks when people take your stuff… people take stuff for bad purposes a lot – but these are small-time crooks and not likely customers anyway. I know they may sell to legit companies, but it is that company’s responsibility to license it from the proper owner.

    Mike – yes I know some people may get download an image and get a personal print. This is kind of lame and doesn’t really support the artist…. so I don’t like it. BUT, I only sell Limited Edition Numbered Prints… so, that home-print won’t be numbered, registered,, etc etc… it’s just one of infinity, so it has no real collectible, registered value.

    Talke – cool!!

  • I know for me as a wedding and portrait photographer I lose sales if I don’t watermark. Heck, I lose sales If I do watermark but far fewer when I do. The problem is that no matter how well you explain copyright license to your clients, some will undoubtedly and without fear – take those images right off the DVD you burned them and take them to Walmart for printing. I wish we lived in a world where that didn’t happen but it does and until it doesn’t, my watermark lives in the bottom right of all my images. I think CC license is awesome, but unfortunately it just doesn’t work for everyone.

  • Awesome philosophy!

  • Great light from the sun! Also I like your fonts 🙂

  • What a perfect view of perspective in HDR photography

  • casusan

    Love this shot Trey – beautiful!

  • Totally agree! Watermarks are so distracting!! I hope more people embrace your internet trust philosophy.

  • You make some really good points, and inspired me to drop the watermark ritual. One less step in the process. Thanks!

  • I think it is great that you don’t use watermarks and that you post them pretty hi-res. You’ve totally understood how the interwebs work! I do think that people that try to protect their photos by making them small and cluttering them with watermarks, lose on it themselves by people not actually appreciating their work as much, and therefore losing commercial value. Do you rather sell 50 photos and have 10 stolen, or sell 10 photos and have none stolen?

    This is why the web is so great and the faster people will understand what you’ve understood, Trey, the faster, I think, they will start earning money on their work.

    I post all my photos in hi-def. I would not mind if somebody made the effort to make print of it and put on their wall. It would actually be pretty cool. I don’t see it as a major loss. I don’t think that a person that makes a print themselves, would pay me instead anyway. People who appreciate my work will also pay for it.

  • Josh B

    Thank you, Trey. This is the one of the biggest reasons that I always return to your site (aside from the fact that your work looks amazing). Besides, its impossible for me to share your work with my friends if you watermark images- they make for super ugly backgrounds, and I’d never find good opportunities to tell people about you.

    With such openness, you have gained a lot of loyalty from us. Thank you!

  • Thanks!

    Nate – I see your point on Wedding photography… that may indeed be a special case? I can’t believe clients would be so lousy as to do that… I don’t know about how to price that stuff or what is common practice in that arena.

  • Your stance is admirable, but you should be aware that there seems to be some ambiguity as to what is and isn’t “commercial use”, at least that is the claim of some of those using these images. I contacted the well regarded about their use of a CC non-commercial image from Flickr and received a polite reply back informing me that their editorial use was not commercial and allowed under the terms of the license. I think most reasonable people would disagree with this assessment and I think that most people publishing their work under CC license would feel their intent violated by such use. Are we to believe that Conde Nast doesn’t consider itself a commercial enterprise, or that its editorial content exists for higher purposes than to attract advertising? I don’t think so.

  • Hi Trey
    After having seen and met so many photographers an artists who are paranoid about their work getting stolen, it was refreshing to read your take on this matter. I for one, detest watermarks. Being an aspiring photographer myself, I know for a fact that it would take someone to be pretty desperate to “steal” my work. And what better way to get noticed than to have people see your work?
    Good on you for taking those views! There are some things that money can’t buy… and goodwill would be one of those things! 🙂

  • Super shot Trey. The sun through the Live Oaks is stunning. I agree with your thoughts regarding watermarks. I regularly visit your site for the great images as well as your insightful, no nonsense, thoughts and techniques.

  • I totally agree. Good on you to have logic. Too bad so many others lack it…

  • It’s funny how at first, back in 2002-2003 when I myself started in photo-business, I pretty much stamped everything with the most “clever” watermarks I could come up with, plus I distributed them in max. 600px resolution. And now today? No watermarks anywhere, never again, just the plain and appropriate IPTC / META -data, but nothing more.

    I find it (and I’m sure most of you agree) that more than often people who have the least reasons to be afraid of image thefts are the same one who are most eager to watermark everything 😀

  • Brian

    As someone who has yet to “make it” in photography, and as someone who has had images used without permission/compensation in the past, I watermark everything that hasn’t been paid for. I would submit that watermarks don’t have to be obnoxious to be effective.

    I also don’t agree with the idea that lawsuits are in any scenario a “slam-dunk.” The biggest expense is the time that you have to spend chasing down a copyright infringement suit or settlement. You might have all the necessary documentation to prove your case, but it’s going to take a severe amount of time for the resolution.

    Finally, Trey, your photography is unique and as one of the recognized pioneers of HDR, it’s going to be difficult for someone to use your images illegally. Speaking for myself – someone not so differentiated – the hassle isn’t worth it.

  • Lots of interesting points being made here.

    I look at it as fans vs money. If someone wants to download a photo of mine for whatever — his desktop wallpaper, a banner on his website, to print it and hang it on his wall, et cetra — he is doing so because he evidently likes my photo. I have two choices here: I can let him download it or I can deny him that, or at least make it difficult, such as by using a watermark or scaling down the posted image. If I deny him that personal usage of my photo, well I may lose him as a fan, or at least annoy him and make him view me and my work less favorably. If I grant him that use, I gain a fan — maybe. Potentially that means I gain several fans as other people he knows hear about my work from him.

    Did I lose a sale? Well, maybe. But I would suggest gaining a fan is more important, and if I succeed in that then he might be more inclined to buy a print directly from me next time instead of trying to print it himself. Maybe. Or maybe one of the people he emails my photo to will want to buy from me.

    This is all idealized, of course. There are bad people out there, and I have been bitten a few times doing this. But it is my sincere belief that the majority of people are good and honest and if you treat them well, they will treat you well. I can only see benefit to giving my stuff away for personal use.

    whoops…sorry for writing so much, Trey.

  • Thanks all for the interesting discussion !

    David – yes I think it is better to gain a fan… they will like you – and some day, some how, they will look for and find a way to give you money (or something else of value) some day.

    Brian – if you are registered with the copyright office, it is a slam-dunk case. Now, it IS expensive to file suit and follow up, but you just need a firm that will do it on contingency.

    Milan – thx for the note – yes – things have changed a lot… so much of watermarks is “conventional” wisdom… this passes down over time… people don’t question it sometimes.

  • mon

    just wondering why people think even a small watermark in the corner of a photo is so wrong or detestable. We don’t think twice when we see a painting with a small signature. Why is a watermark so “evil” if it’s done in the same manner. I understand the logistics of having to keep 2 photos, and the ugliness of a very large marking, but I wouldn’t mind a photo with a small signature. I think it brings something personal to the creation… Maybe others think that’s stupid, though.

  • Ken

    Savannah was one of my Mom’s favorite places. She took this picture once. Thanks for the memory!

  • I was just in Savannah in early April…beautiful place! I love the shot!

  • Great shot!

    Thanks for your words on watermarking. Very useful stuff to think about it.

  • Totally agree about the watermarking. In addition, if you ever did want to contest someone’s use of your image, I’m sure you would have original RAW files, outtakes and other pictures from the location, all with metadata, that should beyond doubt that the work is yours.

    Also, I think people can sense a fraud – or will do eventually.

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  • Ron

    I try to use watermarks on most of my artwork and I don’t post in hi rez except for a very few sites where you have to be a member to view them. I don’t want to put in many hours of work just to have someone make a large print and hang it on their wall. If I sold it, no problem. The watermark is at the bottom not across the middle and they could crop it off but it is also low rez so they can’t make a bit print easily.

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  • Hm…just got in an argument over on where I nobly defended the use of watermarks from a rather harsh critic. Then I read this. And now I feel dumb. I think humble pie might be on the menu pretty soon, here…and some deletions and new uploads…

  • Howdy! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I genuinely enjoy reading your articles. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that deal with the same subjects? Thank you so much!

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